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Physical, Financial and ...

Communicating a holistic approach to well-being

Even before COVID-19, employees were struggling to navigate our “always-on” work-life world. Lockdowns and worksite closings have only made it worse. If burnout, stress, and illnesses are taking a toll on your organization, supporting your employees’ total well-being can have a real impact on their productivity, engagement, and loyalty. 

How organizations communicate their commitment to employee well-being is varied and unique — as it should be. If you’re trying to get your arms around the concept of total or holistic well-being, here are some questions you might want to consider.

What is “well-being”?

There’s not a generally agreed upon or scientific answer this to this question. But here’s a simple definition you can start with: Well-being is a positive and meaningful perception that one’s life is going well. Easy enough!

What is a “holistic model for well-being” when it comes to employee benefits and the workplace?

At Smith, we think it means designing an overall employee experience that helps employees manage the wide range of issues and concerns they face and ultimately feel more protected, secure, and cared for. Sound unwieldy?

What are the components of holistic well-being?

Because there are so many issues and concerns that can affect one’s well-being, it can be helpful to categorize them. Following are a gathering of various components of well-being, their basic definitions, and examples of employee benefits and programs within each. In our experience, it is unusual for any single employer to use all of these various components. It’s more common for an organization to consolidate these various categories into a smaller, memorable set of three, four, or five. 

Many factors lead to well-being in the workplace.
ComponentDefinitionBenefit Examples
CommunityConnectedness to and participation in one’s
community; good citizenship; availability of
support and strong, functioning social networks
Corporate matching gifts
Support for volunteerism
Time off for voting
Political action committees
Environmental  Good stewardship of natural resources;
respect for surroundings; making connections
between the physical environment
and personal health
Recycling programs
Healthy working environments
Ergonomic work stations
Waste reduction campaigns
FamilyHaving strong and positive marital,
parental, sibling, intergenerational,
and other familial ties
Paid parental leave
Family and medical leave
Adoption/surrogacy reimbursement
Reproductive assistance benefits
Pre-natal and parental coaching
Employee assistance program
Pet insurance
Back-up care
Dependent care flexible spending account
FinancialA sense of security that comes from
feeling one has enough money
to meet their personal and family needs
Retirement programs
Health savings account
Flexible spending accounts
Life and AD&D insurance
Disability insurance
Business travel accident insurance
Financial counseling/planning
Paid leave benefits
Voluntary insurance programs (critical illness, hospital indemnity, cancer)
Identity theft protection/insurance
Subsidized care options
Prepaid legal plans
Intellectual Cherishing mental growth and stimulation;
having an open mind about new ideas;
seeking ways to expand knowledge and skills;
engaging in creative mental activities;
exploring one’s own potential;
sharing one’s abilities within the community
Job rotation
Temporary assignments
Student loan benefit
MentalHaving thoughts, moods, and behaviors
that allow a person to realize their
own potential, cope with the normal
stresses of life, work productively, and
make a contribution to the community 
Employee assistance program 
Counseling/therapy benefits
Vacation, personal days, paid time off
Flexible work arrangements
Occupational  Making use of one’s skills and talents
to gain purpose, happiness, and
enrichment; ability to achieve a
healthy work-life balance,
manage workplace stress, and
build relationships with bosses
and coworkers; integrating a
commitment to one’s occupation
into a satisfying and rewarding lifestyle
Student loan benefit
Service awards
Rewards and recognition
Career support/development
Performance management 
PhysicalAbility to live a lifestyle that is
not hindered by illness or injury;
making behavior choices to
ensure health and avoid
preventable diseases and conditions
Prescription drug
Dental Vision
Fitness reimbursement
Wellness programs
SocialAbility to form satisfying
interpersonal relationships
Diversity and inclusion programs/policies
Employee affinity groups
Employee assistance program
Spiritual Ability to experience meaning
and purpose in life through
a connection to one’s self or a power greater than oneself
Bereavement leave
Flexible work arrangements

What is a possible approach to communicating your organization’s approach to holistic well-being?

Consider which sounds more compelling to an employee:

“We support your total well-being.”

— or —

“We support your total well-being, including your physical, financial, and personal health.”

The second statement makes the nebulous concept of well-being a little more clear and tangible. Used consistently, alongside actual benefits and programs, each label can trigger employees to think of the comprehensive nature of your offerings and their long-term value. 

Many organizations I’ve served use the labels above (e.g., financial) or one’s similar to them (e.g., money). Here are a few simple steps to finding the right terminology for your organization.

  1. List all your benefits programs, policies, and other offerings. Don’t overlook those ergonomic desks! 
  2. Sort the list by grouping similar items. For example, put health care programs together. Try to create enough distinct, meaningful groups; eliminate empty categories, consolidate nearly empty ones.
  3. Come up with a brief description of each group. 
  4. Give each group a generic name (for now).
  5. To find your final category names, refer to your organization’s brand identity and culture for inspiration. You don’t have to stick with the generic terms (like physical) and you probably want to avoid overly clever and vague terms (like vigor) but, ultimately, you want a clear and distinctive list that makes particular sense within your organization.

Let’s Connect

Are you struggling with articulating a clear and compelling approach to total well-being? Do you have a unique approach of your own? Please share your story with us. If you’d like some help, let’s discuss it over a kale smoothie.

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Working Through a Pandemic (Part 2)

Smith interviews an expert on workplace disease control

Smith Communication Partners can help you navigate the choppy waters and tidal wave of Covid-19 information and messages cascading over your business and employees.

One of Smith’s partner firms is Viven Health which has developed a unique hand hygiene training program that can be effective in protecting your employees from the coronavirus. Viven Health is led by Dr. Tom Ahrens, a research scientist who is an international authority on infectious diseases.  

We sat down with Dr. Tom recently to pose a number of questions we are receiving from clients and contacts about the coronavirus and how best to keep ourselves protected.  In our last communication, we presented a few high-level queries and answers on common coronavirus topics. Today we continue our session (part 1) with Dr. Tom to give you more insights on how to prepare for and deal with the new virus. Look for more updates from Smith in the coming weeks.

How important is it for people who are sick to stay home? We have a culture where people go to work unless they are really sick.

Very important!  There are three common symptoms of Covid 19: fever, cough and shortness of breath. You’re first going to see a fever and maybe body aches, much like a flu. If you have a fever, 100 degrees or higher, you absolutely need to stay home. Even if you have a mild experience, you need to stay home so you don’t infect others. 

Some of the news reports are discouraging people with mild to moderate symptoms from walking into the ER or their doctor’s office. Can telehealth medicine fill the gap here? 

Absolutely. We should be using telehealth enormously now. If you’re having trouble breathing, clearly go to the emergency room. But if your symptoms are manageable, use telehealth first and they will tell you if you need to go to the ER.

Unless you have a preexisting condition or happen to unfortunately be seriously affected, it sounds like COVID-19 is something you’ll be able to manage at home. What do people need to have on hand at home? 

Really, it’s no different than what you need to manage a cold or flu.

Once you get COVID-19, can you get it again?

Like with any virus, we anticipate we will develop an immunity to it. So, if someone is sick now, this coming fall they should have immunity and won’t get it again.

You’ve been talking about cold, flu, pneumonia, sepsis, and other viral and bacterial prevention for years now. It must be frustrating to have a proven method that could have made a difference in stemming the tide, but also hopeful in the sense that employers can have an impact on a go-forward basis.

Employers need to prepare and find ways to mitigate the loss of productivity. This is going to hit them and there is no way around this. I think we have 18 months of COVID-19 to go. This is going to be a long and drawn-out fight. In the meantime, we’ve got to get out and educate people on the best ways to mitigate infection. 

Keep in mind that Smith can help you build and implement your communications strategy around the coronavirus.  For more information, call your usual Smith contact or Don Sanford of Smith’s St. Louis office at 314.348.4687.

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Working Through a Pandemic (Part 1)

Smith interviews an expert on workplace disease control

Smith Communication Partners can help you navigate the choppy waters and tidal wave of Covid-19 information and messages cascading over your business and employees.

One of Smith’s partner firms is Viven Health, which has developed a unique hand hygiene training program that can be effective in protecting your employees from the coronavirus. Viven Health is led by Dr. Tom Ahrens, a research scientist who is an international authority on infectious diseases.  

We sat down with Dr. Tom a few days ago to pose a number of questions we are receiving from clients and contacts about the coronavirus and how best to keep ourselves protected. We present some of the questions and answers here for your information and will post others in the coming days and weeks. This is the first of a two-part interview. 

Dr. Tom Ahrens, thank you for speaking with us. A lot of business continuity plans are focused on weather-related or terrorism-related events, which by nature are isolated to a specific location or region. How do organizations manage a rapidly spreading virus? 

The coronavirus is similar to the flu in how it spreads. It will generally concentrate in populated areas—the more crowded we are, the more likely we are to get an infection. Typically, if you get one of the two common types of flu viruses (type A or type B) you will infect two other people. This year in the United States almost 50 million people will get the flu. What we are seeing with COVID-19 at this early stage is an infection rate of three other people, with a projected infection of 100-150 million people, or one-third to one-half of our population.

Let’s talk about employers whose people can work remotely. Are we at a point where employers should require employees who are able to work remotely to stay home? 

Absolutely. This is the simplest way to control the spread of COVID-19. This isn’t rocket science. If you are close to someone, you are at risk. We want people to avoid crowded train and subway stations. Congregating in tight areas sends your risk level up. 

When those who can work from home do so, they are bringing down the risk level for those who must be present at work to do their job. Look, employers need to figure this out now. COVID-19 is going to be an issue this fall and winter. I think in 30-60 days we’ll see a drop because of warming temperatures but expect the virus to come back with a vengeance this coming fall and winter. 

So, we’re expecting coronavirus to have seasonality? You’re saying it will recede in the summer months and come back in the winter months? 

We’re not absolutely certain, but I think so. We’ll get an idea during the summer by watching the Southern hemisphere. If the virus picks up there during our summer, which is their winter, that will be our answer. 

Now, let’s turn to employers who need their folks on the ground to do their jobs. Healthcare, police, transit, public works, grocery stores, gas stations. What should employers be doing to proactively protect these employees?

It’s all about managing the chain of touchpoints. As much as you can, put a physical barrier between you and your customer. You want to reduce how much the customer can breathe on you. Also, there needs to be very careful handling of money. Let’s say I give you money and you have to handle it; you must keep your fingers out of your mouth, nose and eyes until you sanitize again. Any surface you subsequently touch before you sanitize again should be considered contaminated. But as you know, this applies to the cold, flu, any virus. 

Part 2 of our interview with Dr. Ahrens will be published tomorrow, March 19, 2020.

Keep in mind that Smith can help you build and implement your communications strategy around the coronavirus. For more information, call your usual Smith contact or call Don Sanford of Smith’s St. Louis office at 314.348.4687.

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Most Trusted

The emerging employer voice

Trust in government and media has been declining for the past twenty years. Conversely, trust in employers is at an all time high. This situation has created opportunities for employers to have a larger voice and to become a trusted source of information for employees and other audiences. 

Declining Trust

Two decades of wars, a major economic disruption, bitter partisanship and a fragmented media landscape have eroded public trust in both government and the news media.  

Both 9/11 and the Great Recession were cast as governmental failures to know, understand, regulate, prevent or warn the people about these catastrophes. Fairly or not, political parties have used these serious disruptions (along with more trivial issues) to relentlessly attack the other party’s governance. All of this has caused Americans’ trust in government to fall to historic lows.

The news media is also suffering from very low trust metrics. Many factors are dragging their trust numbers down. 

  • Media fragmentation has replaced a single news narrative with a diversity of voices, sources and opinions. 
  • Partisan-focused news outlets like MSNBC , CNN and Fox News mix commentary and news.
  • News as entertainment has blurred the lines between the trivial and serious.
  • “Fake News,” encompassing everything from made up stories to media bias to foreign intervention, is undermining all media.

It has become increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for news consumers to know if the stories they’re getting should be trusted. 

2019 Edelman Trust Barometer p. 23

Rising Voice

Standing in relief to this decline, people’s trust in their employer is rising to unprecedented levels. This is fueled by a general hunger for reliable information and trustworthy institutions and by a shift in the role employers are playing in employees’ lives. 

The employer/employee relationship is established and well understood as both interdependent and mutually beneficial. Employees know that their company views them as a human resource, but they also understand that their company places a high value on that resource.

New approaches to Human Resources, especially benefits administration, have turned employers into information repositories on key issues like:

  • Healthcare consumerism
  • Wellness
  • Education
  • Financial planning
  • Retirement

The information companies provide is accurate and balanced because legal and fiduciary responsibilities lead to careful vetting of all information. Reliable, non-biased information is what the public is craving and what employers are increasingly providing. 

Opportunities and Responsibilities 

This convergence creates opportunities to build on this moment of trust. Employers willing to fill this trust gap can gain a competitive advantage. But this is not a trivial exercise; becoming a trusted source of information is not only an opportunity, it is also a responsibility.   

Provide Clarity. By providing useful, vetted information, employers create real value and comfort for their employees. 

Consider the current Novel Coronavirus outbreak. The spread of this disease is real and will likely affect workers in the U.S. over the next two years. However, news surrounding this outbreak is often sensationalized and the issue is being politicized in an election year. This serious issue needs clarity.

This article from SHRM (Society for Human Resource Managers) is a good example of sharing relevant information. It encapsulates the issue and provides links to many sources of (presumably vetted) information. 

Information like this is fairly easy to assemble and incredibly useful. Employees are provided with reliable information that goes far beyond what they would get from the evening news and that would be difficult to gather on their own. Employees are empowered and prepared because they are informed. 

Create dedicated channels.  Employees need to know where to go for information. Depending on employee populations and budgets, information channels can range from printed newsletters to email distributions to dedicated websites to mobile apps. The type of channel isn’t as critical as accessibility and consistency. 

Keep the channel clean and flowing. Avoid the temptation to use the channel for other messaging. A dedicated channel is more effective and more likely to be read than one that becomes a hodgepodge of unrelated messages. 

Information must be current and archives need to be maintained. It’s critical to use your dedicated channel frequently. It isn’t necessary to create daily content, but at least once a week will keep the channel relevant.  

Facilitate peer networks. One of the reasons employees trust employers is that they are both working on the same team. Information flows should mirror that sense of community and cooperation.  

ESM (Enterprise Social Media) is an excellent platform for employees to interact around the information provided by the company. Having a voice encourages engagement and adoption of critical ideas.

Many employers have concerns about social media within work environments. They worry about divisive voices, discontent and other negatives. Facilitating social media interactions around specific information can mitigate these concerns. 

Peer-to-peer communication around specific articles and channels can be easily and effectively managed. The information at hand guides the discussion, not the whims of users. Conversations on serious platform around important information will naturally be more focused than anonymous public social media. Within a company’s intranet, these platforms can also be managed more energetically. 

The upside is really high. Users who engage with content are typically more informed than those who don’t. These users become partners with your content. They help to explain, curate and promote understanding on social networks. Social media influencers make information dynamic through their advocacy. Look for these people and encourage them. 

Avoid bad information. Carefully curate and vet any information your company disseminates. You won’t have a story about everything, and that’s ok. Your content flow won’t have the punch of mass media, and that’s a good thing.

The aim is confidence. Provide information that is reliable, well sourced and actionable. This is more important than timeliness, entertainment or sensation (all hallmarks of today’s news media). The goal is providing a regular source of information for your specific audience. 

Don’t overreach. Controversy and politics may sell newspapers, but they harm work environments. Avoid taking any political position that cannot be clearly and specifically be connected to the wellbeing of your industry, company or employee population. 

There will be those inside and outside the organization who want to use your informational platform to sway employee opinion. These interests act for their own purposes, not necessarily the organization’s. Their goals are short term. To become a trusted resource, an employer must act responsibly and steadily over the long term.    

Build on the Moment

That employers have become a trusted institution is surprising until you look at the reason behind the rise. Employers are more and more an important information source for their employees. Those who understand where we are and who become intentional in their approach can build on this moment to form lasting partnerships with their employees. 

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